Spreading kindness for four years and counting

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Kindness can be contagious, and Random Acts of Kindness (RAK) Week has proven it year after year.

During the second week of March, the MIT community celebrated RAK Week through a series of loosely-planned events and small, spontaneous acts of generosity known as “RAK hacks.” From a “kindness crawl” to a rainbow-colored ball pit to a yoga and dance party, the week was full of fun activities, giveaways, surprises, and intentional acts of kindness.

RAK Week began four years ago when Bettina Arkhurst and Cory Johnson, then sophomores, applied to the MindHandHeart Innovation Fund after a particularly stressful spring semester.

“We would always say that MIT isn’t a place that a person is meant to go through alone and RAK Week is meant to get people to connect (or re-connect) with each other,” says Bettina, who is now a graduate student at Georgia Tech. Arkhurst and Johnson envisioned an event series that fostered a caring atmosphere across campus, which aligned with MindHandHeart’s mission and goals. MindHandHeart awarded them funding to pilot the week, which has since grown into an annual, Institute-wide event.

This year, academic departments, support offices, residences, student groups, and individual community members participated in the week. Keeping up its tradition of celebrating RAK Week with enthusiasm, the Department of Chemistry organized a series of RAK events and volunteers handed out thank you balloons, shoutouts, and candygrams to members of their community.

“RAK Week is one of our favorite annual events, and it’s always so encouraging and uplifting to see all of the thoughtful things our staff, faculty, students, and postdocs do for one another to facilitate even more kindness than usual in the department and beyond,” says department head Timothy Jamison.

MIT Medical also hosted several activities during the week, including staff passing out daffodils to visiting patients. The Spouses and Partners Connect, a program associated with MIT Medical to support personal, social, and professional growth of spouses and partners of MIT community, organized a kindness crawl — kids and adults walked around campus, spreading cheer and kindness while handing out flowers and candies. MIT Medical Executive Director and Medical Director Cecilia Stuopis sent out handwritten thank you cards to every MIT Medical staff member and organized a surprise musical performance by Keytar Bear, one of Boston’s most famous buskers. Passersby grooved to Keytar Bear’s music and took selfies, which was popular on social media.

“From flowers to live music, RAK Week serves as a wonderful and fun opportunity for us to show our patients that we truly care for them,” Stuopis reflected. “At the same time, we made sure to thank our staff, who work so hard, every day, to keep the MIT community healthy.”

All week long, 17 support offices tabled at Lobby 10 with goodies and informational material. The MIT Libraries also hosted their annual letter-writing event in Lobby 10, and provided participants with a variety of thank you cards, pens, markers, and colorful stationery. The following week, MIT Libraries sent 424 letters from the event to 42 countries across the globe.

Chancellor Cynthia Barnhart and Vice Chancellor Ian Waitz also hosted a study break in the UA Compton Lounge with cookies and cupcakes.

“It’s been wonderful to see RAK Week grow into a campus-wide celebration over the years,” Barnhart commented. “I think the participation across departments, residence halls, support offices, student groups — the list goes on and on — says a lot about the value we place on treating one another with kindness and care. We really are a community who wants to create connections and to promote wellbeing.”

MindHandHeart partnered with the SPXCE Intercultural Center to host an open mic night for students to share stories, perform spoken word poetry and musical acts, and connect with one another in a supportive environment. The open mic was also organized by Good Karma, a student-led kindness initiative sponsored by the MindHandHeart Innovation Fund. RAK Week concluded with an early morning yoga and dance party in the Media Lab.

Random Acts of Kindness Week has grown beyond spreading kindness to become a means to help community members connect with and support one another, and showcase MIT’s many support resources. MindHandHeart’s faculty, students, and staff say they look forward to what creative projects will come out of next year’s celebration.

Random Acts of Kindness Week is co-sponsored by MIT Medical and the Office of the Chancellor.